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A Wake-up Call

Archbishop O’Brien gave a realistic assesment of where we stand as an Archdiocese with vocations to the priesthood and the number of active priests we will have within the next fifteen years.  I encourge everyone to read, reflect, but take courage that the future is not written yet and with every challange comes a chance at opportunity.

Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien
The Catholic Review

My dear people of the Archdiocese of Baltimore,

Last week, our priests gathered over three days to pray and to discuss issues of common concern facing the presbyterate, our parishes and the Church in Baltimore.

One issue that loomed largest in our conversations was that of the shortage of priests – both today and in the future – and the challenges this presents as we seek to ensure that the spiritual needs of the faithful of our Archdiocese are adequately met.

To fully appreciate the seriousness and the immediacy of the priest-shortage challenge we face, consider the following statistics:

• Seventy-two of our 153 active duty priests will become eligible for retirement over the next 15 years, an average of just under five men per year;

• Seventeen of our 153 active priests are over the age of 70;

• Since 1976, we are ordaining an average of only three new priests per year;

• If the current trends hold, the number of active priests will be reduced from 153 to 100 over the next 15 years.

This data, though alarming, is certainly not new to us. In fact, my predecessor, Cardinal William H. Keeler, wisely implemented a planning process to project the impact of the priest shortage in the Archdiocese of Baltimore and to recommend various options for ministering to the Catholic people of our Archdiocese given these realities. The Cardinal formed a committee to carry out this process and which documented its recommendations in a report entitled, The Hope that Lies Before Us.

The committee’s work, guided by the Holy Spirit and rooted in the belief that this challenge presents a positive opportunity for building the future of our local Church, set the following as its goals:

• Providing quality pastoral care throughout the Archdiocese;

• Preserving the bond of community between priests and parishes or other pastoral communities they serve;

• Ensuring the availability of the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist to all;

• Ensuring the availability of all the Sacraments, including Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick;

• Helping the faithful to respond to their Baptismal call to participate in the mission and ministry of the Church;

• Affirming and lifting up priestly vocations as a gift from God and a noble, happy calling;

• Caring for the health and well-being of priests.

The Hope that Lies Before Us offers our Church a road map for the future, especially as we evaluate various models for parish ministry. We’ve seen it successfully employed in “tests” in various parts of the Archdiocese, such as in Mountain Maryland and South Baltimore, where one priest serves as pastor of numerous parishes and is assisted by other priests in providing pastoral care to Catholics in the area. There is more to be gleaned from this planning effort and it gives us a tremendous head start as we seek to reinvigorate this planning process.

Not unlike our approach to addressing the challenges facing our schools, we must not only strategically plan for the long-term, but also address immediate needs given the realities before us – needs which can be identified by answering the following questions:

• Do we have enough priests to serve as pastors for the current number of parishes?

• Do we have enough priests to celebrate all Masses currently scheduled in our parishes?

• Is there sufficient demand among the faithful to justify and/or support the current number of parishes and the current Mass schedule?

• Can we continue to sustain the aging and, in some cases, expansive parish campuses that once served much larger communities?

In the weeks and months ahead, we will begin to chart a course – one that will be open and transparent and will involve voices from every perspective, including the faithful – that will help us answer these questions and others. Our overarching goal is to discern how we can best serve the current and future pastoral needs of our people, given the present and projected challenges.

Much more will be written and shared on this subject, I assure you. Please pray for me and all who seek to face these challenges with an earnest heart and know of my prayers for the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we carry out our mission of bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to God’s people in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

In the Lord,

+Edwin F. O’Brien
Archbishop of Baltimore

Sep 23, 2010

A Risky Answer

Readings

“Who do you say that I am?”

If that is not a loaded question I don’t know what is.  Jesus asks Peter and the other disciples bluntly.  There is no turning to the person beside you or giving in to rumor, but each person must speak for themselves and Peter does, “The Christ of God.”  That answer would chance his life forever and our answer will change ours.  Once we testify and recognize that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Anointed One, the Word Incarnate there is no going back.  In fact, Jesus then points out what kind of Messiah he will be:

“The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.”

I don’t think this was the Messiah that Peter and the other disciples were counting on, but that is the Messiah they got.  Our faith is all about discovering, recognizing, and loving Jesus for who he is, not what we want him to be.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York commented last year that we have forgotten that we are a Church of the cross.  We are baptized into Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection, but many times we only want the latter part.  If we die then we will rise, if we are willing to lay our lives down then we will be lifted up, in our weakness we find our strength.  This is the paschal mystery and the central tenant of our faith.  There is no getting around, side stepping or ducking the issue…if we want Jesus, then we have to accept all of him.  If we want to be faithful disciples then we need to embrace the entire paschal mystery.  With every cross there is resurrection and with every dying there is a rising to new life, but you can’t have one without the other.

It is about time as a Church, a community, a family, a society and a world that we remember and embrace who we are.  It is about time that we accept Christ for who he is instead of worshipping the idol that we want.  So…”who do you say that I am?”  You might want to be careful on how you answer.

Today I read a posting by Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York on his blog and thought I might share it with you:

Ah, it’s true: those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer –thank you, Nat King Cole –are coming into the station. Soon, all we’ll have are memories.

One stands out for me. I was on the Jersey Shore, at the Villa Saint Joseph, in company with priests. At supper I had quietly admired one of them, now retired, and listened as he joined in swapping stories about past assignments and colorful incidents from priestly life. It was clear to me that this particular priest had worked hard for over fifty-five years –poor parishes, teaching, caring for the sick. He was an example of a senior priest who had “been in the trenches” and served Jesus and His Church faithfully.

Later that evening I sat alone up on the second-floor porch and enjoyed the sea-breeze. I also smiled as I watched the married couples and families walk along the boardwalk, and had to admit to myself that it sure would be nice to have a wife, kids, or grandkids here with me. Not that I was regretting my priestly celibacy, mind you, because I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I guess I was just imagining “what-if …”

And then I saw the old priest below me on the front porch. He, too, was all alone. He, too, was looking at the couples and families walking-by. And I felt sorry for him. This priest, who had given it his all as a generous, committed priest, there all-by-himself in a rocker on the front porch.

Down I went. Yet, as I approached, I saw his lips moving, as if he were in conversation with a friend; his eyes were closed, although he was not asleep, because the rocker was moving; he hardly looked lonely at all, because there was a smile there …

Then I saw the rosary in his hand, and the breviary (the book of daily readings and prayers, mostly from the Bible, which we priests promise to pray daily) open on his lap … and I realized he was enjoying the best company of all.

I went back upstairs and finished my cigar.

And recalled what Pope Benedict XVI had observed earlier in the summer when he had begun his own vacation, “No one who prays is ever alone.”

Thank you Archbishop Dolan!!  Here is a link to his blog:  http://blog.archny.org/  Enjoy!!

The Brick

21 st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings

It has been a while, but I’m back writing again. Sorry for the longer than expected vacation from the blog.  Hope you all are doing well.  Now onto my thoughts for this weekend:

A parishioner sent me an email this past week that contained an interesting story:  a gentleman just bought a new red jaguar car.  Coming home from the dealership he entered his neighbor and the street where he lived.  He was careful to make sure that he looked around to make sure no car doors were opening or children playing by the street.  A second later he heard something hit the passenger door of his new car.  He immediately stopped, got out of his car and saw that someone had just thrown a brick at his car and not only damaged, but dented his new car and seriously scratched the paint.  He saw a young child just a few yards away and walked right up to him and began o yell and scream.  The boy cried and cried and finally the boy brought the man around the other side of the car where his younger brother had fallen out of his wheelchair and was lying hurt in the sidewalk.  The boy said, “I’m so sorry sir, but I did not know what else to do.  My brother needed help and I could not get anyone to stop and help.  Please help me get him back into the wheelchair so I can get him home.  He is too heavy and I can’t pick him up on my own.”. Immediately the man felt a lump in his throat as he got a handkerchief out of his pocket to dry the boys tears.  Lost for words, the man helped pick the injured brother up of the ground and back into his wheelchair.  After a thank you  from the boy the man watched the young boy push his brother slowly down the sidewalk and turn the corner towards home.  He slowly walked back towards his car, now scratched and dented, but in the days that followed that car door never got repaired.  It was always a reminder to the man: don’t go through life so busy that someone has to throw a brick at you to get your attention.

We can only hope that we stop and take notice of the brick that was tossed our way by the gospel.  The last line of the gospel should make us sit up and take notice: some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.

While we race through this world with our own standards, views, perceptions and values they are turned upside down when we come face to face with truth itself – Jesus Christ. We can try to build up, create and run our own little worlds, but in the end the Lord has to remind us that it is his standards, views, perceptions and values that really matter. 

So often we want the easy way out.  We want the four lane highway that makes life easy, comfortable and the cruise control is set at 65. 

However, Jesus calls us to take the narrow road or as Robert Frost would call it, “the road less travelled”.  So often we sell ourselves short thinking that we could not possibly live out the call of the gospel or accept all the teachings of the church: too difficult, too hard, too stressful.  Yet, Jesus reminds us that there is no easy way out or side stepping our responsibilities if we want to be citizens of the kingdom.  We have to be willing to put in the hard work, to be dedicated, to make the sacrifice, to live for something and someone that is larger than ourselves. 

Are all of our energies spent trying to change the teaching of the church, or  do we allow the church to challenge us to grow in holiness and faith?

Are all of our energies spent on trying to change God into our image and likeness or do we allow God to gently and lovingly transform us into his?

Are all of our energies spent trying to run away from the cross or is it about time we embraced it and recognized the true source of our salvation and hope?

Like Isaiah, all nations and all peoples are called to be part of the kingdom, but just like in today’s gospel we have the freedom to remain on the outside if that is what we truly desire.

We can settle for less, but God trusts that we will desire more.

God believes in us even when we don’t believe in ourselves. 

The Church calls us to greatness, even when we have settled for second best.

It is time for the road less travelled.  It is time for the narrow road that leads to the kingdom.  It is time to become once again the people who God knows we can be.  It is time to turn our world upside down and choose Christ!
 
“and I, I took the road less travelled by and that has made all the difference.”

Perhaps we will never look at a scratch or dent in a car door the same way again.  Perhaps we will finally stop and take notice.

Fair Weather Fan?

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings

O-R-I-O-L-E-S

Okay, how many of you are Oriole fans, be honest?

I see some hands, but definitely not the majority.

We are off to another losing season:  the Orioles have won 18 games, lost 49 and are 23 games out of first place.  Camden Yards is virtually empty and the only time it gets filled is when the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox come to town.  But even then, Oriole fans are in the minority with Yankee and Red Sox fans easily out numbering and out cheering our home team.

It would seem that we are dealing with many fair weather fans.  You see these fans when things are going well, winning seasons are being played and championships are just around the corner, but when losing seasons creep in and you find your team with the worst record in all of baseball this year…the fans are nowhere to be found.    

Jesus asks an important question in today’s gospel, “who do you say that I am?”  Even more importantly Peter answers, “the Christ of God.”  However, Jesus gives them the shock of their lives…if he truly is the Christ, the Messiah, then suffering and death is part of the job description.  This is not the Messiah that the disciples were waiting for, but this was the Messiah that God the Father sent.

Time after time Peter and the other disciples did not get it or even worse tried to talk Jesus out of it leading Jesus to rebuke and even scold Peter for thinking such thoughts and trying to get in the way of Jesus’ mission. 

This has a profound impact on us as well, because Jesus asks us the same question, “who do you say that I am?”  Our answer carries a lot of ramifications!!  If we say that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and the Messiah than there is no way of avoiding the paschal mystery…the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Like Peter and the disciples we might want to talk Jesus out of it or when the going gets tough run away like in the garden of Gethsemane, but this is who Jesus is…a suffering messiah.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York during Lent talked about how we have a real problem with a suffering Messiah.  Like Peter we want no parts in it, like the jeering crowd on Calvary we want him to come down from the cross and yet there he remains, there he stays; there he reigns as a scandal for the world. 

Luke tells us in today’s gospel:

Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” 

We are so busy trying to save our lives that in the end we risk losing everything.  I am reminded of another verse, “what good is it to gain the entire world, but lose your soul in the process.”

We get a pain and immediately we reach for the Advil, “come down from that cross!” 

An unexpected life comes at an inconvenient or unplanned time of our choosing we look to get of it, “come down from that cross!” 

Our marriage seems to be having more bad times than good we look to end it, “come down from that cross!” 

Priesthood is not exactly what we expected it to be and the church is not changing to what we would like we leave, “come down from that cross!” 

Serious illness or age is weighing us down and life seems to have become burdensome we look to terminate it, “come down from the cross!” 

We look for the short cut, the easy way out or even the path of least resistance, but in trying to save our lives in the short term we lose our life in the end.  Why?  We are uncomfortable with a suffering Messiah.  We want God to be made in our image and likeness, not we made in his.  We don’t mind excepting Jesus on our terms or imagining him for what we would want him to be, instead of excepting him for who he actually is. 

We cannot be fair weather fans in our life of faith, but must we willing to accept the entire paschal mystery, not just a part, but the suffering, death, and resurrection as a total package…we cannot separate one from the other. 

I can only imagine what might happen to the players; mangers and even the executives of the Orioles if Camden Yards was actually packed with Orioles fans, not because they were going to win a championship this season, but because this is when they needed us the most.  It says a lot more about a person, a franchise and even a city in how we weather the bad times, than how we celebrate the good. 

Instead of running from the cross it might be time as a church to once again embrace it.  To get to Easter Sunday we need to be willing to celebrate Holy Thursday and Good Friday as well.   

We are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection and we are claimed for Christ by the sign of the cross.  It can no longer be a sign, a symbol or a gesture…it needs to be a way of life. 

As the book of Zachariah proclaims: 

On that day there shall be open to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem,

a fountain to purify from sin and uncleanness.

The cross is the fountain of our salvation and the tree of true life that will never fade.  Perhaps we have been so busy trying to save our lives that we are in the process of losing it.  Instead let’s pick up our cross, follow Christ and in the end save it.

Thi is NO time to be a fair weather fan!!

O-R-I-O-L-E-S!!

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings

There are lyrics to an Andrew Lloyd Webber song that you may have heard me use before from his show Aspects of Love called “Love Changes Everything.”  Here is one verse:

Love, Love changes everything:
days are longer, Words mean more.
Love, Love changes everything:
Pain is deeper than before.
Love will turn your world around,
and that world will last forever.

Yes, love, love changes everything,
brings you glory, brings you shame.
Nothing in the world will ever be the same.

And is it not true that love can make a day seem like it goes on forever, that the words we say take on new and unexpected meanings, that because of love the pain we experience is deeper, that love is the source of human glory, but can also lead to human tragedy as well.  Whatever the case might be love truly changes everything in our lives.

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